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Documents reveal how Britain backed Loyalist terror in Northern Ireland

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The British government and army covered up state sponsored right wing terrorism for over 35 years.
Issue 2264

The British government and army covered up state sponsored right wing terrorism for over 35 years.

New documents reveal that British army units of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were used to finance and support right-wing Loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast. At least 70 soldiers on one base were linked to a loyalist terror group.

The Pat Finucane Centre and Detail website have unearthed secret government papers showing how loyalist paramilitaries heavily infiltrated the UDR’s Belfast battalion in the late 1970s.

The “10” UDR battalion was based in Belfast, with its D and G companies at Girdwood barracks in the north of the city.

In July 1977, a routine audit uncovered a major fraud aimed at siphoning off tens of thousands of pounds for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitaries.

Investigators estimated that the fraud amounted to between £30,000 and £47,000—the equivalent of up to £200,000 in 2011.

One female clerk told investigators that an unnamed UDR soldier had ordered her to hand over £300 each month to the UVF—or her daughter would be targeted.

Equipment stolen from another UDR unit on the same base was being used to equip the UVF. Some soldiers were also “borrowing” army weapons to carry out criminal activities.

One secret report states, “There appears to have been theft of stores over a considerable period. There are indications that equipment stolen has been passed to the UVF.”

Investigators concluded, “The general impression gained is that, ‘D’ and ‘G’ [companies] are the supply and financial support elements for local paramilitary organisations.”

Another memo states, “As a result of a current, but minor, investigation it was revealed that certain SNCOs (senior non commissioned officers) had been involved or were involved in paramilitary activities.

“A review was carried out of security investigation/incidents involving the unit during the past six months and this, coupled with additional source information produced a list of about seventy members of the unit with paramilitary traces. This figure has since grown.”

The investigation revealed that paramilitaries were allowed to socialise in the unit’s mess inside the army base.

Minutes of a meeting at British army headquarters in Lisburn in February 1978 discussed a “defensive press brief” which argued, “It would be desirable to avoid mention of the security investigation into UDR soldiers’ possible involvement with paramilitary organisations.”

In a telling memo army chiefs discussed test firing all UDR weapons held at Girdwood to determine whether they had been used in sectarian shootings, including two murders.

“There have been 16 reported cases of misuse, including negligent discharge from the whole of the UDR since January 1977,” it stated. “Some of these involve ’cowboy’ shooting with the inference of intimidation of Roman Catholics.”

Army chiefs feared soldiers could mutiny if informed their weapons were to be forensically tested for evidence of being used in sectarian attacks.

Worrying about moral in the battalion, army chiefs suspended the investigation “temporarily in order to allow the situation to stabilise”.

The Shankill Butchers

In the late 1970s the UVF’s notorious Shankill Butcher gang was responsible for a sectarian murder campaign. It included the abduction, torture and murder of 10 Catholics in north and west Belfast.

Far from keeping two warring sides apart, as they liked to pretend, the British state either allowed or organised the murder of large numbers of mainly Catholic citizens.

From the late 1970s, various British governments backed a secret unit of the army, the Force Research Unit (FRU), along with the special branch of the RUC. Both supplied names, addresses and photographs of Catholic targets to Loyalist paramilitaries. The latest discovery reinforces that pattern.

The RUC’s failure to apprehend the Shankill Butchers for 19 months led to many claiming that the gang was being protected from prosecution.

In 1979 loyalist Edward McIlwaine was jailed for 15 years for kidnapping and wounding the gang’s last Catholic victim.

McIlwaine was a UDR soldier and had joined ‘10’ UDR in 1974. He was finally arrested in June 1977 and charged with the kidnapping and brutal assault on Gerard McLaverty.

He remained a UDR soldier until August 1977, when he was been discharged for “poor attendance”.

Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre questioned the British army’s refusal to disclose the evidence of collusion.

“The British government was fully aware of the extent of loyalist infiltration of the regiment but decided to turn a blind eye,” he said.

“People continued to die as a direct result. The Shankill Butchers continued their reign of terror. It was the ultimate appalling vista.”

Socialist Worker previously revealed the army covered up the UDR’s collusion with terrorism almost from the regiment’s foundation

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